Kosovo History


Kosovo (kô´sôvô), Albanian Kosova, Serbian Kosovo i Metohija and Kosmet, officially Republic of Kosovo, republic (2015 est. pop. 1,871,000), 4,126 sq mi (10,686 sq km), SE Europe, a former province of Serbia that unilaterally declared its independence in 2008. Located on the Balkan Peninsula, it is bordered on the north and east by Serbia, on the south by Macedonia, and on the west by Albania and Montenegro. Prishtinë (Priština) is the capital and chief city.

Land, Economy, and People

Kosovo is largely mountainous, with the North Albanian Alps in the west, the Sar Mts. in the south, and the Kopaonik range in the west. Surrounded by the mountains are the fertile valleys of Kosovo and Metohija; the land is drained by the Drin, Ibar, and Južna Morava rivers. Agriculture, stock raising, forestry, and mining are the major occupations. There are rich deposits of lignite (brown coal), lead, nickel, zinc, and other minerals. Unemployment is very high, because of the disruptions caused by the end of Communist rule and the struggle for independence, and the economy is dependent on foreign aid.

Kosovo's population before 1999 was about 80% Albanian; ethnic Albanians now make up about 90% of the inhabitants. Serbs are the largest minority, concentrated especially in the north between the north bank of the Ibar River and Serbia, and this section of the country is under effective Serbian, not Kosovan, control. The Albanian, Serbian, Bosniak, Turkish, and other languages are spoken. The main religions are Islam (largely Albanians), the Serbian Orthodox church (largely Serbs), and the Roman Catholic church.


Kosovo is governed under the constitutional framework of 2001, which was established by the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK). The European Union Rule of Law Mission (EULEX) largely superseded UNMIK in Dec., 2008; both exercise some authority in the country despite Kosovo's declaration of independence (which has not been recognized by the United Nations). The president, who is the head of state, is elected by the Kosovo Assembly to a five-year term. The government is headed by the prime minister, who is chosen by the Kosovo Assembly. Members of the 120-seat, unicameral Kosovo Assembly serve three-year terms; 100 members are directly elected, 10 seats are reserved for Serbs, and 10 seats are reserved for other minorities. Administratively, Kosovo is divided into 30 municipalities.


Anciently inhabited by Illyrians and Thracians, the region was part of the Roman and Byzantine empires. Settled by the Slavs in the 7th cent., Kosovo passed to Bulgaria in the 9th cent. and to Serbia in the 12th cent. From 1389, following the Turkish victory at Kosovo Field, to 1913, it was under Ottoman rule, and the Albanian and Turkish population greatly increased; by 1900 Albanians were the dominant ethnic group in the region. Partitioned in 1913 between Serbia and Montenegro, it was incorporated into Yugoslavia after World War I. Most of the region was incorporated into Italian-held Albania from 1941 to 1944. Following World War II, Kosovo became an autonomous region within Serbia. In 1990, demands for greater autonomy were rebuffed by Serbia, which rescinded Kosovo's autonomous status. Albanians were repressed and Serb migration into the region encouraged; in response Albanians pressed for Kosovo's complete independence.

Harsh Serbian repression and a breakdown in negotiations to settle the issue provoked NATO into attacking Serbia by air in Mar., 1999. Serbia responded by forcing hundreds of thousands of ethnic Albanians to flee Kosovo, creating an enormous refugee problem; perhaps 1.5 million Albanian Kosovars were expelled from their homes or fled. An estimated 7,000 to 10,000 Kosovars were killed by Serbian forces. An agreement resulted in the end of the bombing campaign and withdrawal of Serbian forces from Kosovo in June, and NATO peacekeepers entered the province. Many Serbs fled; those that remain are largely in areas bordering Serbia.

In municipal elections in 2000, Ibrahim Rugova's moderate independence party, the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK), won 60% of the vote; Serbs boycotted the polls. The 2001 elections for the provincial assembly, in which Rugova's party won 46% of the vote, saw greater Serb participation. Differences between Albanian parties delayed the formation of a government until Mar., 2002, when a power-sharing agreement led to the election of Rugova as president. Real power, however, resided with the UN adminstration that was imposed after NATO forces entered Kosovo.

The process of rebuilding was slow and marred by retaliatory Albanian attacks on Serbs and other non-Albanians. In Mar., 2004, there was a major outbreak of anti-Serb rioting that many observers believe was orchestrated to drive Serbs from areas of mixed population. Assembly elections in Oct., 2004, resulted in a plurality for Rugova's party, which formed a coalition government with Rugova as president. Kosovo's Serbs largely boycotted the vote.

Rugova survived an assassination attempt in Mar., 2005, but died of natural causes in Jan., 2006; the following month, Fatmir Sejdiu, a law professor and assembly deputy, was elected to succeed Rugova as president. In 2006 Serbia and Kosovo began discussing the province's final status. The vast majority of the Albanians favored independence, a solution rejected by Serbia, which adopted a new constitution in Nov., 2006, that called Kosovo an inalienable part of Serbia.

In Mar., 2007, after months of talks failed to yield a compromise, UN envoy Martti Ahtisaari presented a proposal for Kosovo's eventual independence to the UN Security Council. Serbia strongly opposed the plan, and Russia, a historical Serbian ally, called for an agreemeent acceptable to both sides, ensuring a veto on any proposal unacceptable to Serbia. Remarks by U.S. President Bush, during a 2007 visit to Albania, that Kosovo would eventually be independent provoked outrage from Serbia's government.

In the Nov., 2007, elections, the Democratic party (PDK) won a plurality; a coalition government, headed by Hashim Thaçi, was formed with the LDK. Sejdiu remained president. In Feb., 2008, Kosovo declared its independence; the action was not recognized by Serbia, and there were demonstrations—some violent—against the move by Serbs in Serbia and Kosovo. Serbia subsequently sought a de facto partition of Kosovo that would give it control over Serb-majority areas there, and later moved to challenge the legality of Kosovo's declaration at the International Court of Justice, which ruled in July, 2010, international law did not prohibit a unilateral declaration of independence.

In June, 2008, Kosovo's constitution took effect; at the same, Serbs in N Kosovo established parallel government institutions. Sejdiu resigned as president in Sept., 2010, when the constitutional court ruled he could not serve as president and leader of the LDK at the same time. Assembly Speaker Jakup Krasniqi became acting president. The PDK-LDK coalition failed to agree on a new president; subsequently the LDK left the coalition, and a no-confidence vote led to elections in Dec., 2010.

The PDK won a plurality in the election, which was tainted by suspicion of vote fraud in areas strongly supporting the PDK; a partial revote in Jan., 2011, was also criticized by European Parliament observers. Also in Dec., 2010, Thaçi was accused by a Council of Europe parliamentary investigator of being involved with organized crime, including the selling of organs from prisoners held and killed by KLA in the late 1990s. In Feb., 2011, following the formation of a PDK-led coalition that included two smaller parties, Thaçi remained prime minister and the wealthy businessman Behgjet Pacolli was elected president.

Pacolli resigned in March after his election was ruled unconstitutional because there had not been enough legislators present. In April, Atifete Jahjaga, the former deputy director of the police, was elected president. Beginnning in July there were tensions and occasional violence in the north as Kosovo's government attempted to assert control over customs stations on the Serbian border; Serb residents there sought to thwart those attempts, in part by building barricades. Some barricades were removed in Dec., 2011, after confrontations with peacekeepers seeking to restore road access to a base in the north. Freedom of movement for EULEX forces was restored by agreement in Feb., 2012, but barricades remained on many roads. Kosovo also banned goods from Serbia and Bosnia because those governments refused to recognize Kosovan customs stamps. In Dec., 2012, EU, Serbian, and Kosovan negotiators reached an agreement opening several border crossings; subsequent talks aimed at normalizing Serbia-Kosovo relations were inconclusive until Apr., 2013, when an agreement designed to integrate the Serb areas in the north into Kosovo was signed.

In Sept., 2012, the transitional period of internationally supervised independence officially ended. Ramush Haradinaj, a former KLA leader and prime minister in 2005, was acquitted for a second time of war crimes charges in Dec., 2012; a retrial had been ordered after his 2008 acquittal. The verdict was denounced in Serbia. In the June, 2014, elections Thaçi's PDK won a plurality (30%) amid low turnout, but an LDK-led opposition alliance won a larger combined share of the vote (but not a majority). Subsequently the PDK and LDK agreed to form a coalition. LDK leader Isa Mustafa became prime minister, and in 2016 Thaçi was elected president.

In Aug., 2015, Kosovo and Serbia signed an EU-brokered agreement designed to normalize their relationship. Provisions allowing Serb areas greater local powers provoked antigovernment protests in Kosovo, and were later ruled unconstitutional (Dec., 2015). Also in 2015 Kosovo signed an association agreement with the European Union.

In May, 2017, Mustafa's government fell; in the subsequent elections (June) the PDK-led coalition won a plurality of the vote and seats. Ramush Haradinaj, of the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (and the PDK-led coalition candidate for prime minister), took office in September after the coalition secured the support of smaller parties; a former rebel leader, he has been accused of war crimes by Serbia, but was twice acquitted by an international tribunal. More than 110 nations recognize Kosovo as an independent nation; some 5,000 NATO-led peacekeepers remain in Kosovo.


See S. K. Pavlowitch, The Albanian Problem in Yugoslavia (1982); N. Malcolm, Kosovo: A Short History (1998); M. Vickers, Between Serb and Albanian (1998); T. Judah, Kosovo: War and Revenge (2000).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2018, The Columbia University Press.

Kosovo History: Selected full-text books and articles

Kosovo: What Everyone Needs to Know By Tim Judah Oxford University Press, 2008
Between Serb and Albanian: A History of Kosovo By Miranda Vickers Columbia University Press, 1998
Kosovo: An Unfinished Peace By William G. O'Neill Lynne Rienner, 2002
Crises in the Balkans: Views from the Participants By Kostas G. Messas; Constantine P. Danopoulos Westview Press, 1997
Librarian's tip: Chap. 9 "Albanian Nationalism and Prospects for Greater Albania"
De Facto States: The Quest for Sovereignty By Tozun Bahcheli; Barry Bartmann; Henry Srebrnik Routledge, 2004
Librarian's tip: Chap. 4 "Albanian and Serb Rivalry in Kosovo"
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